SCHOOL children have been doing their bit to help a former pupil conquer the toughest footrace on earth.

Between them, about 200 youngsters from St Leonard’s Catholic School walked 156 miles in laps of their Durham City schoolyard, all in support of ex-St Leonard’s pupil Pete Nichols, who is nearing the end of the Marathon de Sables, a 156-mile race through the Sahara Desert.

Having started out on Sunday (April 6), Mr Nichols, who now lives in Wigan, Lancashire, hopes to cross the finishing line today (Saturday, April 12).

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In a message of thanks to the school, he said: “I’m genuinely touched. It’s a really fantastic way of showing some support and something I certainly wasn’t expecting.”

He has also promised to visit the school to talk about his experience.

Teacher Michael Hughes said: “The bleak misty morning was a stark contrast to the 50 degree heat of the desert.

“Despite the cold weather, spirits were high and pupils had a real sense of pride as they showed their support for Pete and raised awareness of the charity Unique Kidz which he is raising money for.”

The pupils have been kept up to date with Mr Nichols’ progress in school and have raised about £70 for the Lancashire-based charity, which helps disabled children.

Mr Nicols, an environmental manager, must carry with him everything he needs to survive, including food, cooking utensils, sleeping equipment and medical supplies.

He completed the longest single day of the challenge on Thursday, covering 81.5km in 17 hours and 30 minutes.

On his blog, he wrote: “The hardest day I’ve lived through.

“There’s a reason this race is called the world’s toughest footrace and... I found out why.

“I learnt the meaning of dehydration. The heat is something else. We came in at 2.30am and went straight to bed. I just want to finish and it’s so close now.”

Mr Nichols has already far exceeded his fundraising target of £3,500, raising more than £5,000. To read his blog, visit; and to sponsor him, visit